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The Hopewell Township Municipal Auditorium was filled to capacity at the Hopewell Township Committee February 19 meeting with proud family members, friends and township residents for the Hopewell Township Police Department promotion ceremony.

The Hopewell Township Police Department promoted Officer Francis Tulko to Lieutenant and Officers Mandy Grey and Louis Vastola to Sergeants. Each officer was honored and sworn in with family members by their side and on looking colleagues beaming with admiration.

“It is our pleasure, and I think I can speak for the whole Committee, to support our incredible police department,” said Mayor Kristen McLaughlin. “You are truly public servants in every single meaning of that word.”

The Police Department also acknowledged Officer Mark Panzano for his response to a report of a house fire on February 3. He effectively lessened the flames before the Hopewell Township Fire Department had arrived, ultimately decreasing damage to the home.

After thanking the entire Hopewell Township Police Department, the Committee invited officers and families to stay for the rest of the meeting.

“I hope everybody stays and watches this incredible meeting we’re about to have,” said Committee member John Hart, which elicited a laugh from the public.

After the room cleared out, the meeting continued with a presentation, followed by intense public scrutiny regarding PILOT agreements in Hopewell Township.

Committee Member Kevin Kuchinski gave an informative presentation about PILOT agreements, or Payment in Lieu of Taxes. He reported that Hopewell Township currently has $60.7 million in outstanding debt, which is reason for the Committee to search for other revenue sources to help pay it off.

“PILOTs can help the Township achieve important municipal goals including the development of Affordable Housing Projects without large, upfront costs,” said Kuchinski. “Secondly, PILOTS can deliver important new sources of revenue without burdening residential property tax payers.”

But, PILOTs are not new to Hopewell Township. The Township’s first PILOT launched in 2002 with the Hopewell Gardens affordable housing project. More recent PILOTs include the Woodmont apartment project and the Zaitz redevelopment plan, which is projected to generate $112 million over 30 years.

“I think it’s critical that the Township also take the time to get the ongoing financial details right in a PILOT,” said Kuchinski. “The end result of any PILOT should benefit the Township and its residents financially, not only in year one but in year thirty.”

Residents in attendance voiced their concerns regarding the information presented.

“I cannot let Committee member Kuchinski’s omissions, distortions, half-truths and misrepresentations go uncommented on,” said former mayor Harvey Lester. “That wasn’t so much a presentation as it was a one-sided, conclusory defense of what this Committee has already done, and what you’ve already decided to do. The presentation should have been entitled ‘Township Defends Tax Break for Billion Dollar Corporation.’”

The majority of the public’s concerns were centered on the cost-benefit analysis and the number of school children the PILOT would bring in to the Township along with how the money would be spent.

“You’ve looked at the revenue but you haven’t looked at the costs associated with thirty-five hundred new homes and potentially eight or nine thousand new residents,” said former Mayor John Edwards. “That presentation was half the equation; there’s another half that still needs to be considered.”

The Committee’s next meeting is scheduled for today, March 4 at 7 pm.

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